2013 Vol. 34, No. E2

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Animal models provide myriad benefits to both experimental and clinical research. Unfortunately, in many situations, they fall short of expected results or provide contradictory results. In part, this can be the result of traditional molecular biological approaches that are relatively inefficient in elucidating underlying molecular mechanism. To improve the efficacy of animal models, a technological breakthrough is required. The growing availability and application of the high-throughput methods make systematic comparisons between human and animal models easier to perform. In the present study, we introduce the concept of the comparative systems biology, which we define as “comparisons of biological systems in different states or species used to achieve an integrated understanding of life forms with all their characteristic complexity of interactions at multiple levels”. Furthermore, we discuss the applications of RNA-seq and ChIP-seq technologies to comparative systems biology between human and animal models and assess the potential applications for this approach in the future studies.
In animal societies, some stressful events can lead to higher levels of physiological stress. Such stressors, like social rank, also predict an increased vulnerability to an array of diseases. However, the physiological relationship between social rank and stress varies between different species, as well as within groups of a single species. For example, dominant individuals are more socially stressed at times, while at other times it is the subordinate ones who experience this stress. Together, these variations make it difficult to assess disease vulnerability as connected to social interactions. In order to learn more about how physiological rank relationships vary between groups of a single species, cortisol measurements from hair samples were used to evaluate the effects of dominance rank on long-term stress levels in despotic and less stringent female rhesus macaque hierarchal groups. In despotic groups, cortisol levels were found not to be correlated with social rank, but a negative correlation was found between social rank and cortisol levels in less stringent hierarchies. Low ranking monkeys in less stringent groups secreted elevated levels of cortisol compared to higher ranking animals. These data suggest that variations in the strictness of the dominance hierarchy are determining factors in rank related stress physiology. The further consideration of nonhuman primate social system diversity and the linear degree of their hierarchies may allow for the development of valid rank-related stress models that will help increase our understanding and guide the development of new therapeutics for diseases related to human socioeconomic status.
To proceed from sensation to movement, integration and transformation of information from different senses and reference frames are required. Several brain areas are involved in this transformation process, but previous neuroanatomical and neurophysiological studies have implicated the caudal area 7b as one particular component of this transformation system. In this study, we present the first quantitative report on the spatial coding properties of caudal area 7b. The results showed that neurons in this area had intermediate component characteristics in the transformation system; the area contained bimodal neurons, and neurons in this area encode spatial information using a hybrid reference frame. These results provide evidence that caudal area 7b may belong to the reference frame transformation system, thus contributing to our general understanding of the transformation system.
The Chinese tree shrew (Tupaia belangeri chinensis) is a small experimental animal with a close affinity to primates. This species has long been proposed to be an alternative experimental animal to primates in biomedical research. Despite decades of study, there is no pure breed for this animal, and the overall genetic diversity of wild tree shrews remains largely unknown. In order to obtain a set of genetic markers for evaluating the genetic diversity of tree shrew wild populations and tracing the lineages in inbreeding populations, we developed 12 polymorphic microsatellite markers from the genomic DNA of the tree shrew. An analysis of a wild population of 117 individuals collected from the suburb of Kunming, China, showed that these loci exhibited a highly expected heterozygosity (0.616). These 12 microsatellites were sufficient for individual identification and parentage analysis. The microsatellite markers developed in this study will be of use in evaluating genetic diversity and lineage tracing for the tree shrew.
Establishing non-human primate models of human diseases is an efficient way to narrow the large gap between basic studies and translational medicine. Multifold advantages such as simplicity of breeding, low cost of feeding and facility of operating make the tree shrew an ideal non-human primate model proxy. Additional features like vulnerability to stress and spontaneous diabetic characteristics also indicate that the tree shrew could be a potential new animal model of human diseases. However, basal physiological indexes of tree shrew, especially those related to human disease, have not been systematically reported. Accordingly, we established important basal physiological indexes of domesticated tree shrews including several factors: (1) body weight, (2) core body temperature and rhythm, (3) diet metabolism, (4) locomotor rhythm, (5) electroencephalogram, (6) glycometabolism and (7) serum and urinary hormone level and urinary cortisol rhythm. We compared the physiological parameters of domesticated tree shrew with that of rats and macaques. Results showed that (a) the core body temperature of the tree shrew was 39.59±0.05 ℃, which was higher than that of rats and macaques; (b) Compared with wild tree shrews, with two activity peaks, domesticated tree shrews had only one activity peak from 17:30 to 19:30; (c) Compared with rats, tree shrews had poor carbohydrate metabolism ability; and (d) Urinary cortisol rhythm indicated there were two peaks at 8:00 and 17:00 in domesticated tree shrews, which matched activity peaks in wild tree shrews. These results provided basal physiological indexes for domesticated tree shrews and laid an important foundation for diabetes and stress-related disease models established on tree shrews.